How BBC Local Radio covered the Whaley Bridge incident

Kate Squire, Editor of BBC Radio Manchester, writes for RadioToday about the importance of local radio during a crisis.

“What a week it’s been in Greater Manchester… dreadful flooding of roads, homes and businesses in Poynton and Bramhall and then, on top of that, the potential cataclysmic collapse of Whaley Bridge Dam.

The nation watched as the weather worsened and a race against time began for the small town of Whaley Bridge and the surrounding areas. This is where BBC Local Radio is so important. It always has been and, in my opinion, it is even more so in an ever changing world where crises like flooding are more and more frequent and devastating for those affected. We’re on the side of our people, we get answers, we champion, and more than anything we care and galvanise others to show compassion.

It’s been a week where BBC Radio Manchester did just that and where three stations – Manchester, Derby and Sheffield – came together on Sunday night to show how united we are in times of difficulty and how we are more than just the sum of our parts.

BBC Radio Manchester broadcast a floods special on Wednesday as the rains brought misery to parts of Bramhall and Poynton. On Thursday we were on air through the night as the crisis at Whaley Bridge began to unfold, and Chelsea Norris took the Breakfast Show to the area on Friday morning.

We wanted to be at the heart of the story. The Goodwin family home in Chapel-en-le-
Frith played host to Chelsea and the team, where Bev was also putting up her mum and dad, plus friends Suzie and Angela from Whaley Bridge.

Chelsea said to her hosts on air at 6am: “if I knew you’d be in pyjamas I would have come in mine…”

The reply was: “this is all we’ve got…” But the kettle was on and the families showed true spirit and determination to get through.

Listeners turned to local radio as they feared for their lives and left their belongings and precious things behind. The army arrived and the Chinook helicopter rumbled overhead dropping rubble in the gaping hole in the dam. The Dunkirk spirit was captured by our reporters as people handed out fish finger butties to the emergency services, and people in local pubs watched on in amazement how this had happened where they lived. Resident meetings and media briefings were reported and brought live to listeners on the radio, on social media and online as our reporters sent in material and pictures.

But as the water level in the reservoir was being lowered by pumps, the weekend saw another severe flood warning issued with a threat of storms and torrential rain. The power of local radio was evident on Sunday as BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Derby and BBC Radio Sheffield came together to broadcast from 6pm through to 5am. We were there every step of the way with reporters out all night, broadcasting from pubs, streets, and homes. We heard from the Wing Commander in charge of the Chinook and from people in the Palace Hotel in Buxton where some evacuees were staying.

Local radio staff are a pretty amazing bunch, everyone pulling extra shifts and working long hours, all to help listeners and lend that reassuring voice. We are there when the national media are long gone. We’ll be there when Bev’s mum and dad move back home, when the dam is rebuilt and when communities are back to normal.

It’s true public service at its best.